PowerPC Teeters on Edge of Uncertainty

News Analysis: With Apple and IBM going their separate ways, the PowerPC has questionable future development.

Its the end of the PowerPC as we know it. But most everyone feels fine.

Just one day after Apple Computer Inc. said it would shift from IBM PowerPC to Intel Corp. Pentium chips, delivering what some might see as a huge blow to IBM, its business as usual in East Fishkill, N.Y., the de facto headquarters of Big Blues chip group.

Although IBM, Apple and Motorola Inc. all once worked together to create the PowerPC, its now quite clear that the companies have gone their separate ways, following Apples revelation on Monday that it will build Intel processor Macs, starting in 2006.

For its part, Apple says that even though it will offer PowerPC-based Macs for some time, it needed more power-efficient chips and Intel was the logical choice to get them, despite the difficulties of porting software.

IBMs PowerPC chip roadmap will no longer meet Apples needs for power efficiency in the future, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said Monday.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about Apples announcement of its plans to move its systems to Intel Corp. processors.

Although it might have raised questions in some peoples minds about IBMs chip plans, Apples decision has been a long time coming.

The company, which maintained a secret x86 backup plan for several years, essentially reacted to decisions IBM made to focus its efforts elsewhere, analysts said.

IBM is steeped in a new strategy of pushing custom chip design and manufacturing and services, as well as efforts to make its Power chip architecture more open.

Motorolas chip group, now Freescale Semiconductor Inc., is spending the bulk of its time pursuing networking, automotive and other markets, analysts said.

"IBM is aggressively moving the Power Architecture beyond the PC, as shown by our recent successes with the next-generation gaming systems announced by Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo," IBM said in a statement provided via e-mail to eWEEK.com.

"IBM is focused on the highest value opportunities in each marketplace, and our direction with the Power Architecture is consistent with that strategy."

Despite parting ways with Apple, IBMs chip business appears intact, analysts said. However, the same cannot be said for the PowerPC chip itself.

"This is the end of an era; when they got together [to create PowerPC], it was on Apples behest," said Kevin Krewell, editor-in-chief of the Microprocessor Report.

"Now the whole reason for the PowerPC to be is no longer—it was Apple—that [decision] brings this to a close."

Next Page: Possible changes in the future.